New York City

I-Team: 8 Years Later, Occupy Wall Street Protesters Still Suing NYPD over Free Speech

An attorney for Occupy Wall Street protesters who were arrested says he believes many of the protesters detained during this summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations have also been falsely arrested

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Black Lives Matter protesters aren’t the only ones accusing the NYPD of making bogus arrests to shut down marches and demonstrations. Two lawsuits, dating all the way back to the Occupy Wall Street era, continue to wind their way through New York courts. 

The plaintiffs, all participants in a series of 2012 OWS anniversary demonstrations, say NYPD officers arrested them for blocking sidewalks — even though there were no civilian pedestrians trying to get through. Their attorney, Wylie Stecklow, says the NYPD routinely misapplies New York’s disorderly conduct statute — resulting in sidewalk protesters’ free speech being suppressed.

"What you are seeing are random arrests by senior officers in order to instill fear in anybody participating in protest," said Stecklow.

Pablo Borges, one of the plaintiff protesters arrested for blocking the sidewalk, said he was picked out of a group of demonstrators marching along Broadway, but video of the arrest doesn’t seem to show civilian pedestrians trying to get through.

Nearly 100 protesters lined up face-to-face with NYPD officers in an at-times tense demonstration protesting police brutality in the wake of a man's death in Minneapolis at the hands of cops. NBC New York's Gaby Acevedo reports.

"There was a free flow of people who were just passing through," Borges said.  "Suddenly I see the cop on my side and I feel another cop, his hand on my back and he pulls me off and the next thing I know I’m right next to the police car."

In a ruling from 2012, U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan, ruled in favor of demonstrators who were charged with disorderly conduct during protests of the 2004 Republican National Convention. Sullivan said the NYPD improperly arrested the demonstrators for blocking the sidewalk because, "New York courts have interpreted this statute to permit punishment only where the conduct at issue does more than merely inconvenience pedestrian or vehicular traffic."

Stecklow says he believes many of the protesters detained during this summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations have also been falsely arrested – because there’s no evidence they were impeding members of the non-protesting public.

"You need to show more than mere inconvenience," Stecklow said. "If an individual is walking down the sidewalk and there are protesters coming at them, can they still navigate through them?"

The NYPD declined to comment for this story. The I-Team also reached out to unions representing police captains and sergeants, often the people who supervise the policing of protests. The unions did not respond by the deadline for this story.

Episcopal Bishop George Packard, another plaintiff suing over his arrest during Occupy Wall Street, says the recent video of NYPD officers forcefully pushing and pepper spraying BLM protesters is evidence officers need more training.

"It’s kind of an aggressive, abusive behavior that is frightening and I think it is meant to destabilize the protest," Packard said.  "I find it very troubling."

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